Distinguishing Forgiveness

Hello new to the forum yet I’ve been reading it for years. In my recent discussion with a protestant we came to the topic of priestly authority to forgive sins I referred him to John 20:22-23.

He insists that in this passage Christ is giving the power to forgive or retain sins to ALL Christians rather than to just the Apostles. He then explained that Christ intended this statement to mean that only if someone personally wronged you, that you had the power to forgive his/her sin if they asked your forgiveness. Further he said the passage did not have to do with confession to someone such as a priest who played no part in the incident.

I can see where he makes his case for the passage referring to all Christians in the sense that in John 20: 19-20 the passage describes that Jesus was with the disciples rather than specifically the apostles. I realize the passage likely refers only to the apostles but I don’t have any evidence to support that.

I was wondering if anyone could help me out here.

He’s the one that needs to come up with some evidence. We know for sure that Jesus gave this authority to the Apostles - the plain reading of Scripture makes this clear. You can prove your position. Now he comes and says this applies to all Christians. There’s nothing in the plain reading of that text to support such a conclusion. You should not be expected to prove a negative (that Jesus did NOT include everyone). We know for sure he included the Apostles, and we know nothing further.

You can’t infer anything from the use of the word “disciples.” John’s Gospel does not use the word Apostle anywhere. The word disciple is often used when the context clearly refers to the Apostles, such as Matthew 10:1, “And he called to him his twelve disciples…" And Acts tells us exactly who was staying in the upper room:

When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. [Acts 1:13]

But you have something in your favor. The setting is very solemn. This event took place on Easter Sunday. Jesus appeared to the Apostles and breathed on them. There is only one other place in all Scripture where God breathed on something - on the lump of clay that became Adam. By “breathing” on them, we know that something very profound is happening. He said “receive the Holy Spirit.” But this event was NOT Pentecost. Pentecost happened 40 days later (after the Ascension, when Jesus was no longer on the earth). At Pentecost the Spirit was poured out on non-Apostles, but this wasn’t Pentecost.

John 20:23 describes a special dispensation of the Spirit for a special purpose. If everyone was intended to be included, Pentecost would have been pointless - the Spirit would have already been poured out on everyone.

I should have also mentioned that the Bible says:

And with that he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

Who does the Bible say he was speaking to? Everyone? Or the people in the room? He was speaking to them, not to you or I.

Some modern translations omit the bolded text “to them” (probably because it seems redundant) but the word is clearly present in the Greek text (the word is αὐτοῖς, meaning “to them”).

I think the question should have been, “To whom does the Bible say he was speaking?” but that sounds too hoitey toitey

There were more than just the 11 apostles in the room. Luke 24 describes the same day (Easter) and it is clear by Luke’s account there are more people in the room. St John does not specifically state he breathed just on the apostles, he breathed on them.

Many people don’t realize that the word Apostle appears only 8 times in all four Gospels. Matthew uses the word only once as does Mark, and Luke uses the word Apostle six times. John never uses the word Apostle in his Gospel. In John’s Gospel everyone is a disciple. John uses the word disciple over 70 times and only distinguishes the Apostles from the disciples on two occasions by using the phrase “the twelve”.

Matthew 9:6 says that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins and that this authority has been given to men - plural.

When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:8)

Authority to forgive sins was given to men on earth. John the Baptist was baptizing as everyone confessed their sins.

and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:6)

The Epistle of James speaks about the forgiveness of sins through anointing with oil and prayer or the righteous.


It is true that Luke’s account happened on Easter, and Jesus appeared to the Apostles as well as two others. Luke’s account, however, does not mention the breathing or the bestowing of the Spirit. We cannot conclude that these were the same event.

It’s not like Jesus only appeared once on Easter Sunday. Our Lord had already appeared to Mary Magdalene at the tomb [John 20:16-18].

St John does not specifically state he breathed just on the apostles, he breathed on them.

But there is not anything in Scripture that establishes that there was anyone else besides the Apostles present when he breathed. Scripture tells us exactly who was staying in the upper room. Scripture tells us that two followers from the road to Emmaus visited the Apostles, and Jesus appeared among them. Nothing in Scripture establishes that these two visitors were present when Jesus breathed upon them (or even that it happened in the same visit).

There is no question that Jesus breathed on the Apostles (well, besides Thomas, who was absent). The ONLY question is if he breathed on anybody else, and there is absolutely nothing in Scripture to substantiate this position.

Thanks for the replies David I will be sure to bring up your points should I continue my conversation with him.

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